Padres’ Prospects Morejon, Tatis Jr. Shine with Tin Caps
— Kyle Glaser (@KyleAGlaser) August 20, 2017
A.J. Preller and the Padres’ organization beat me to it.
With wild confidence, I can now say Fernando Tatis Jr. was the most advanced hitter I’ve seen in a minor league game relative to the competition around him. Not even Miguel Sano or Francisco Lindor during their stints in the Eastern League (double-A) appeared so out of place amongst their peers. While I’ll admit it’s substantially harder to stand out in double-A than A-ball, the point emphasizes how on the brink of promotion Tatis Jr. was. San Diego finally has some hope with a stacked farms system with roots in the lower minor leagues; cornerstone might be too modest in describing Tatis Jr.’s importance.
I sat in front row behind home plate at Parkview Field in Fort Wayne, Indiana, mesmerized as the 18-year-old Tatis Jr. posted a productive 1-for-3, with a long double and three walks, as the Tin Caps routed the Dodgers’ low-A affiliate, the Great Lakes Loons. My praise may come off as aggressive, until you realize that the Fort Wayne Tin Caps are a low-A team, while Tatis Jr.’s new team is two levels above, in San Antonio, Texas. Scouts often cite the high-A to double-A jump as the most difficult, and Tatis Jr. joins the likes of Ronald Acuna and Forrest Whitley to do so before the age of 20, this season. Keep Tatis Jr. won’t even see a pitch at high-A. Just as “cornerstone” may have been modest, I’d say aggressive might be an understatement in describing this jump.
My photo-copied Tin Caps’ roster from the game has Tatis Jr. listed at 6’3″ 185lbs, begging for a move to third base once he fills into his frame (he’s only 18 remember). With that being said, his motions at shortstop were fluid and natural, as the one difficult defensive play he made in the game was a strong throw on the run to nab the speedy Moises Perez from the Loons. Plays like that one convince me that his calling may actually be up the middle over his projected spot at the hot corner.
After seeing plays like this one, suggestions that his plus range can play up at shortstop in higher levels of the Padres’ system, help buoy my optimistic belief that Tatis Jr. can play an advanced defensive shortstop at the major league level. With Luis Urias also with the Padres’ double-A team, the San Antonio Missions, and getting reps at second base, my guess is that the Padres agree Tatis Jr.’s developmental track is at the six.
While I generally observe a prospect like Tatis Jr. without any third-party reports to bias my impressions, I had already read enough about the shortstop to make that impossible to circumvent (he’s number 21 on my top 100 prospects list). I’ve seen a few citations of noise in Tatis Jr.’s swing, but in many cases I’d consider the optimistic version of noise to be rhythm. Tatis Jr. has rhythm in his swing, and it works. Relatively active hands, with a small leg kick that leads to a short follow-through, deceptively making his swing look more concise than it actually is. I wouldn’t doubt a lot of coaches and scouts want to iron some of the movements out of his swing, but once again analyzing the Padres’ organizational moves, his current approach and mechanics were enough to push him up to double-A. Logic would suggest that if they thought he wouldn’t survive two levels higher because his swing was too long, or had too much noise, he wouldn’t be stepping into a batter’s box in San Antonio for this first time in his career on Tuesday night. In person what stands out is the bat speed and improving game power that Tatis Jr. has. If you venture out to his highlights on MiLB.com, the majority of his notable bombs are up in the zone, which helps to inflate the bat speed praise. The qualifier? Average pitcher’s velocity that he saw in low-A may not compare to what he’ll now see in double-A. Tatis Jr. took a 2-1 fastball to right-center field for his lone hit in the game, just missing a home run, but continuing to display his ability to hit to all-fields.
Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs gave the Padres’ future a 30 game power grade currently (pre-season), with future potential for 50 (average on 20-80 scale). I have a feeling adjustment to that grade would warrant a boost given the 21 home runs he mashed in 117 games with the Tin Caps, on top of a .239 ISO. Am I confident that his 24% strikeout rate in low-A won’t rise in his stint with the Mission at double-A? Not particularly, but keep in mind how young Tatis Jr. is, and how much he has already accomplished. Baseball America’s podcast is a great resource for prospect reports and information, and one thing they mention that resonated with me suggested once a player gets to double-A, their “tools” need to become bonafide “skills,” in order to prosper. Tatis Jr. has a lot of raw tools at the moment, and it might not be too brash to suggest the majority of those become skills with the Missions.
Adrian Morejon was the Tin Caps starter in the game against the Loons, and because I have the greatest luck in the world, it was unequivocally the worst start of his professional career. His previous three starts at low-A were fine: 16.2 innings, 13 strikeouts, five walks, and 13 hits. This fourth start wasn’t great, as his control lapsed on his way to allowing five earned runs on five hits and four walks.
Getting the negatives out of the way first, as with any young pitcher, if the fastball command wavers enough to prevent working ahead in the count, it becomes very tough to set down hitters. An undersized pitcher like Morejon lives on that command. It’s how he posted a 2% walk rate with the Padres’ short season A-ball team, and combined with a three-pitch mix is the reason why he’s a consensus top 100 prospect, number 67 for me. In this outing, Morejon didn’t have the command box score’s suggest he had in his other starts, but neither did he have control, or the ability to throw strikes even if he isn’t hitting his target. When Morejon did look like he was about to settle in, the control of his secondary pitches lapsed enough to leave hittable pitches over the plate. Connor Wong of the Loons went fastball hunting and took a ball to the right-center bleachers, while Jared Walker popped a double two score another two. This lead to 57 pitches through two innings, and an easy decision to pull Morejon from the game.
What I did get to observe was an extremely good look at Morejon’s mechanics and the action on his pitches. At Parkview field, the bullpen is just off the foul line for both teams, with a low railing adjacent to the mounds (think AT&T Park, O.Co Coliseum). The GIF above is Morejon throwing his pre-game bullpen, with mechanics a lot of pitchers would envy (This was him throwing a slider). Smooth, repeatable, with the ability to hide the baseball and stay closed through the point of delivery, Morejon is polished for an 18-year-old; if you want to say “high floor” I wouldn’t be opposed to agree. You can see in the GIF above the consistency of his landing spot as this delivery is mid way through the bullpen itself, leaving enough of an imprint to recognize. In game, he has more of a fall off to the third base side, as I found it pretty easy to notice the difference between his full effort, in-game mechanics, and those I observed in this “quieted down” bullpen session on certain pitches. For comparison, watch his trail leg in the GIF above on his slider, and compare that to the fastball he throws in the GIF below. Different effort levels yes – and perspectives from my camera, apologies – but the GIF below is more attuned to his in-game mechanics, while the GIF above really gives you a look at his upper body and weight transfer. Benefits and bias in both perspectives, with the common denominator being easy velocity and poise.
His fastball sat 92-94mph in the first inning, then ticked down to 90-92 in the second, and to the few batters he faced in the third (according to stadium gun). I’d like to think this was an adjustment after relinquishing three runs in the first inning, as opposed to flair up of a prior arm injury that sidelined him earlier in the season. Morejon’s slider sat 75-78 in the outing breaking one off – probably the best pitch of the game – to Starling Heredia of the Loons for nice whiff. Morejon didn’t go to his changeup until the second inning, which intrigued me because I’ve heard that is his better secondary pitch. A passing thought was that this outing may have been structured as a fastball/slider early plan, which ultimately didn’t work out the way Morejon or pitching coach Connor McGuiness wanted. When he did throw a few changeups, the offering sat 83-85 on the stadium gun, but didn’t possess the same action that I later observed in videos like this one from Baseball America. I’m torn in thinking whether Morejon would’ve faired better if his changeup took precedent over his slider in this start, or if the root of the issue was the lack of fastball command. I’m leaning towards the latter, and will surely keep an eye on his next outing to see what the blueprint for a bounce-back might become.
It’s tough to find positives from the results of this start, but Morejon has the potential to feature three plus pitches, with a sturdy, albeit short frame, and a clean delivery that doesn’t worry me too much in terms of health concerns down the road (although that claim of mine is suspect at best). I’m a fan of the young, Cuban prospect flourishing into a middle of the rotation arm, with the potential to become a number two. Ace potential may be limited, but so might my ability to seeing the absolute ceiling without the seasoned eyes of a professional.
Photo is property of Lance Brozdowski, BigThreeSports.com.
Statistics all via Fangraphs.com and BrooksBaseball.net, unless otherwise specified.